Westbrook Food Pantry’s Jeanne Rielly looks over the pantry’s stock. Chance Viles / American Journal

WESTBROOK— A $15,000 donation to the Westbrook Food Pantry, its biggest cash donation ever from a single donor, comes at the right time, the pantry director says.

The money received from Oxford Casino will help the pantry deal with an increase in food insecurity in the community.

Volunteer Darrell LaChance of Westbrook packages bread before the pantry opens at noon Tuesday. Chance Viles / American Journal

“Food insecurity has expanded and the need is constant. Our area is very much a rental city, and many folks renting aren’t as secure as the more well off,” Director Jeanne Rielly said.

The all-volunteer pantry, located at the community center, helps up to Westbrook 500 families regularly and runs entirely on donations. It provides them with staples ranging from pasta and bread to canned beans, fruits and vegetables. It also offers meat, fresh produce, desserts, a range of condiments and personal hygiene products.

About 14 percent of Maine homes are considered “food insecure” and 37 percent of them do not qualify for food assistance programs, according to the Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine. Local food pantries help fill that gap.

“It’s tough. There are people that come in for assistance and make just over the requirement for general assistance but aren’t food secure. We don’t want to just send them out the door, so we try and point them to other resources like the SNAP program or the food pantries,” said Harrison Deah, General Assistance community outreach coordinator for the city of Westbrook.

“Even those receiving assistance have to use it to cover everything, including rising rent, not leaving much left for food,” Deah said.

In 2019, Westbrook had 316 General Assistance clients. A household of one will receive $1,089 monthly from GA in 2020, Deah said.

On the other side of these canned and bottled goods is an area full of bread and produce. Chance Viles / American Journal

Many pantry volunteers chip in with their own money to help keep the shelves stocked, said Rielly, who had been involved with the pantry for the past 22 years.

Food Pantry clients represent Westbrook’s diverse population, she said.

“We do not ask about finances. We try and help everyone in our community, whether they need help as medical issues arise or they are new to the area and need some assistance to get on their feet,” Rielly said. ” A lot of people that come are also seniors on a fixed income looking to supplement what they have.”

Rielly believes more families could use some help from the pantry but don’t seek it.

“I am surprised there isn’t more, I’d expect upwards of 1,000 families,” she said.

“I think some people are ashamed to come in, but we are here to help and we help all types of people,” volunteer Darrell LaChance said while working at the pantry Tuesday.

Big donations like Oxford Casino’s go a long way, Rielly said.

Large businesses like Hannaford, Shaw’s and BJ’s regularly pitch in with meats and produce, giving the pantry a more robust selection and allowing patrons a wider choice.

“The donations from them are beautiful. People assume what we get is battered and bruised produce, but that isn’t true,” Rielly said.

Baker’s Bench in Westbrook also is a regular donor, as are a number of residents.

“It’s amazing how much effort people put into this, we are really supported,” LaChance said.

While the food pantry has expanded to include evenings and offer a larger variety of food, Rielly believes that there will always be a need for food assistance and for food pantries.

“A lot of people are looking for avenues to give, and as long as there is food insecurity, we are there,” Rielly said.

For more information, visit Westbrookfoodpantry.org.

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